Saturday, September 20, 2014

game preview: Brigham Young


Date/Time: Saturday, September 20; 3:30

TV: ESPN

Record against the Cougars: 3-1

Last meeting: UVA 19, BYU 16; 8/31/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 23, UL 21; BYU 33, UH 25

Line: BYU by 15

Injury report: N/A

Last year's win set a great tone for the season: very solid defense and enough capitalizing on opponent mistakes to come away with a win.  Afterwards, of course: thbpt.  Winning that game led our thoughts completely astray, and it was two more months before the ugly truth truly sank in.  This year, the positive feelings from a win are a lot less likely to be phony; it's the last win that left a nagging doubt, but that can be washed away by doing it again.

-- UVA run offense vs. BYU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 52 carries, 173 yards, 3.7 ypc, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 22 carries, 87 yards, 4.0 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
130.33 yards/game, 3.29 yards/attempt
108th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

BYU defense:
54.33 yards/game, 2.06 yards/attempt
5th of 128 (national)

At this point it's getting hard to hope that the run game will be anything more than what it is: a marginally competent attack that has moments every now and then, but won't work with the consistency a good offense demands.  Counter plays are unusually effective, which I think is because the defense gets more penetration than it should and finds itself hard-pressed to catch up to the running back going the other way.  Otherwise, most of the yards seem to come from Kevin Parks's churning thunder-thighs, which are effective at clearing out a 3-yard gain after initial contact at the line of scrimmage.

The Louisville game didn't inspire in me a lot of confidence that the performance was repeatable, and the run game is why.  UVA failed to take advantage of a number of tremendous opportunities.  In order to take advantage of really good field position you have to run the ball, because the defense has less pass-game area to cover.  Misdirection works on your own 30, much less so on the other guy's 10.  UVA was only about 50% effective in the red zone.  (Don't buy it when they count a field goal like they always do.  Getting a field goal in one try isn't 100% effectiveness, it's 42.9%.)  That's got to improve.

This is a really hard game to make that happen.  BYU started their game last week with a safety on a Houston run play and crushed the UH run game all day; they ended up allowing 10 yards on 13 tries.  Neither UConn nor Texas fared very well either.  The efforts on defense are led by linebacker Zac Stout and safety Craig Bills.  The funny thing is that the Cougars aren't doing it by repeatedly slicing into the backfield; they're just very stout at the line and they specialize in the 1-yard gain.

This section of the matchup is our worst against their best, and it's a significant disadvantage for the Hoos.  I don't see Taquan Mizzell being a factor at all; any yards UVA can scrape out will mostly be after contact, which means Parks falling forward is most of the running game.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BYU pass defense

Quarterback:
Greyson Lambert: 42/62, 67.7%; 376 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; 6.07 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 14 rec., 52 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 11 rec., 107 yards, 2 TDs
Darius Jennings: 8 rec., 149 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
203.3 yards/game, 6.22 yards/attempt
92nd of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

BYU defense:
258.3 yards/game, 5.87 yards/attempt
25th of 128 (national)

The likely anemia produced by the running game means Greyson Lambert will have to be really sharp, and bolder than he has been so far.  I say Lambert even though there's the ubiquitous OR sitting on the depth chart still; I've decided I think that's either London's idea of a smokescreen for the BYU DC, or him being unwilling to send the message to Matt Johns that he's fallen back to second string officially.  Either way, I think Lambert is the man; Johns may get a series or two, but no more.

The biggest threat on BYU's defense is, again, the experienced free safety Craig Bills.  Linebackers Alani Fua and Bronson Kaufusi are the pass-rushing threats; no lineman in BYU's 3-4 defense has a sack, but Kaufusi is a converted DE and the weakside linebacker, so he's a pass-rushing type even with the position switch.  BYU's corners aren't overly aggressive, which provides a possible opportunity for the short passing game that Steve Fairchild seems to favor.

The guess here is that UVA gets the vast majority of its yards through the air.  BYU's pass defense isn't bad, but the offenses that they've stopped aren't particularly competent.  Eyebrow-raising as it sounds, UVA will have the best pass offense the Cougars have faced, which is mainly a stinging indictment of said previous opponents.  (They aren't much good at the run either, but they're at least better.)  BYU's run defense is legit, but the pass defense needs more of a test before anyone can make that declaration, so in that regard, there's an opening for Lambert.

-- BYU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Taysom Hill: 62 carries, 356 yards, 5.7 ypc, 6 TDs
Jamaal Williams: 47 carries, 228 yards, 4.9 ypc, 2 TDs

BYU offense:
258.67 yards/game, 4.88 yards/attempt
48th of 128 (national)

UVA defense:
84.67 yards/game, 2.62 yards/attempt
16th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Last year I wrote that Jamaal Williams was the focus of the run game, but that their new quarterback Taysom Hill would be asked to carry the ball a lot.  That wasn't wrong, but since then, the roles have flipped; Hill blossomed as a runner last year, piling up over 1,300 yards on the ground.  Hill is the primary ballcarrier; Williams, the change of pace.  There are spot carries available for a few other players, but Hill and Williams are basically it.

Hill is right back at it this year, with no fewer than 97 yards in each of his first three games, and 160 against Houston.  Williams didn't play against UConn, but ran for 139 yards of his own in the UH game.  These are not bad run defenses that BYU has played, either; they've all allowed about 3.5 yards a carry this year, but more to BYU.

So this is the most interesting matchup of the game.  Even if they haven't played schmos so far, UVA is a clear step up from anything BYU has seen.  Eli Harold is one defensive end who can consistently chase down Hill, and of course I'm not missing any chances this year to talk up the linebackers.  Daquan Romero should play a big role in this one, as UVA's primary outside 'backer.  I won't go so far as to say this is the matchup that decides the game, because actually it'll probably be more of a stalemate.  The respective air games will decide.  But it's UVA's tremendous run defense that gives us the chance to let that happen.

-- BYU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterback:
Taysom Hill: 67/98, 68.4%; 689 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 7.03 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Jordan Leslie: 15 rec., 186 yards, 0 TDs
Mitch Mathews: 13 rec., 108 yards, 2 TDs
Algernon Brown: 8 rec., 84 yards, 0 TDs

BYU offense:
229.7 yards/game, 7.03 yards/game
75th of 128 (national)

UVA defense:
269.3 yards/game, 6.52 yards/attempt
50th of 108 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Hill, last year, was what you expect from a new dual-threat starter: pretty inaccurate.  He's fixed up that aspect of his game pretty nicely, with a completion rate over 2/3; it's partly due to maturity and partly due to a lot of turnover among the receiving corps, which in turn has led to shorter, safer passes.  BYU won't be looking to bomb it downfield, and their receivers look a lot like ours, which is to say, big.

The top receivers, Jordan Leslie and Mitch Mathews, stand 6'3 and 6'6", respectively.  Terenn Houk is 6'5"; he's got six catches this year.  With size like that, the tight ends aren't a big part of the BYU's passing game.  The guys who are, though, are the backup running backs.  Jamaal Williams only does a minimal amount of pass-catching; spotting another running back in the game is a little bit of a tip that a pass to them is coming.

UVA's pass defense is pretty average - if the receivers get the ball.  Hill will do a lot of passing outside the pocket, but he's only 6'2" - when he does stand in the pocket, expect UVA's linemen to start thinking bat-down.  And obviously, UVA has to be aware of the scramble.  The Hoos have plenty of sacks, but they've also been maddeningly proficient at letting QBs slip away.  Hill is one of the slitheriest quarterbacks UVA will see all season, and simply grabbing at him won't bring him down.

It could be a little dangerous for UVA for that reason; the Hoos thrive on pressure, but Hill is hard to pin down that way.  It won't always be the first wave that gets him.  UVA needs to bring a second wave and be sticky in coverage - both much easier said than done for an offense that wants to get rid of the ball quick.  Secondary play will be huge, to keep BYU from succeeding with quick hitters, and to try and nullify the height their receivers bring.

-- Favorability ratings

- UVA run offense: 1.5
- UVA pass offense: 4.5
- UVA run defense: 6.5
- UVA pass defense: 5

Average: 4.38

-- Outlook

One of the tougher games UVA will play the rest of the way.  I'm not going to freak out about the altitude - it's about 4,500 feet, which isn't high enough to have our guys sucking wind in the second quarter.  What worries me is style.  Yes, the Hoos shut down running QB Brett Hundley of UCLA, but Hundley isn't very fast; Hill is faster, and BYU is a less conventional offense overall.  Don't get me wrong - our defense is also unlike anything BYU has seen.

But if winning means just barely converting on all sorts of golden chances the way Louisville served them up, I don't like our odds on the road against a team at least as good as the Cardinals are.  UVA won't be able to run, which means if we're going to see a win, Lambert must have the best game of his career.

-- Predictions

- At least 75% of UVA's offensive yardage is through the air.

- Greyson Lambert has a season (and career) high in pass attempts.

- Kevin Parks has at least 75% of UVA's rushing yards.

- Both Hill and Williams get at least half a yard less per carry than their season average.

- Hill doesn't complete 60% of his passes.

Final score: BYU 23, UVA 16

-- Rest of the ACC

Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech, 12:00 - If GT is as bad as I think they are, and VT is as pissed off as they should be, then you can take VT giving eight points as the lock of the week.

Pittsburgh vs. Iowa, 12:00 - Steel meets corn.  The unfortunate thing for Pitt, though, is that Iowa - whose uniforms were purposely modeled after the Steelers - will look right at home in Heinz Field.

Syracuse vs. Maryland, 12:30 - Another chance to serenade the Terps with a nice little ACC chant.  But win the game first.

Duke vs. Tulane, 12:30 - Two of the South's best schools.

Boston College vs. Maine, 1:00 - Maine's two games this year: a 10-6 win and a 13-10 loss.  Woo offense.

Louisville @ Florida Int'l, 3:30 - Our new ACC members (looking at Pitt, too) have got to learn about life in the penthouse: you can make FIU visit you now.

Wake Forest vs. Army, 3:30 - Wake's last real chance at a win this year.

North Carolina @ East Carolina, 3:30 - ECU has a chance to really be a UVA fan's second-favorite team.

NC State vs. Presbyterian, 6:00 - NC State finishes off one of the weeniest OOC schedules in recent memory.

Miami @ Nebraska, 8:00 - Remember when this game would've been positively titanic?  Also remember when it would've been called Canevicts vs. Cornvicts?

Clemson @ Florida State, 8:00 - The FHRITP that changed the world - or at least, the ACC race.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the recruit: Tanner Cowley

Name: Tanner Cowley
Position: TE
Hometown: Manasquan, NJ
School: Manasquan
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 210

24/7: 84, three stars; #59 WDE, NJ #30
ESPN: 73, three stars; #105 OLB, NJ #38, East #187
Rivals: 5.4, two stars; NJ #35
Scout: three stars; #123 DE

Other offers: Rutgers, UConn, Buffalo

A bit of a big deal was made last year over UVA whiffing so badly in the so-named DMV area in 2014, and rightfully so as it's essentially our front yard.  But did you also know, the last prospects we pulled from New Jersey signed in 2012?  It'll be three years, which is also quite a long time for a state that by my unofficial guess sends the most out-of-staters to UVA other than Maryland.

Here's the streak-breaker.  Tanner Cowley is a somewhat lightly-recruited prospect from the Jersey Shore, who fits the mold of the type of player Mike London often aims for - that is, he doesn't fit any mold especially, being more of a generic athlete with ability on either side of the ball and a frame you can shape to your needs.  The recruiting services can't seem to agree whether he's a linebacker or defensive end (IMO he plays too much pass coverage to be a DE) and he's apparently going to be neither at UVA.  He's been slotted intially at tight end instead.

The problem is, I think - based of course on nothing more than any regular schmo has access to - he'd be a better linebacker than tight end, but UVA's linebacker class is beastly good.  Cowley's highlights don't show him doing great deeds at receiver, except for when he uses his size to outmuscle a defender for a jump ball.**  Certainly a useful thing as a tight end, although it's all muscle and not much jump.  His routes are extremely basic, even when he's split out wide as a true receiver.  I like him better as a linebacker because he hits people with a pretty fair amount of power (both on offense and defense) and because of this line from ESPN's evaluation: "This is an instinctive player with quick key and diagnosis reaction skills; isn't fooled by play action or misdirection run plays."

Coaches spend years trying to teach that.  It's difficult to replicate.  It's exactly what you want out of a linebacker.  It's what I like so much about Daquan Romero - the guy sniffs out screen plays like a bloodhound.  Cowley wouldn't need to spend a lot of time bulking up, either.  I think he'd make a very nice weak-side linebacker, given time to adjust to the speed of the college game and to learn the schemes and what all.

But with Cowley at linebacker we'd have 13 of them next year, which is too many - it's more than four deep and that's even assuming you run three most of the time, which we don't - a great deal of our time is spent in sort of a 4-2-5 setup.  So instead, they'll try and put 30-40 pounds on him and have him be a tight end, which makes a ton more sense from a depth chart perspective, considering the extremely uncertain availability of Mario Nixon (who will probably never play a down.)  The list of returning tight ends entirely consists of Rob Burns and Evan Butts, so the depth chart is very inviting in that regard, where Cowley will compete only with Richard Burney in his class.

Burns is a bit of a cautionary tale for Cowley, who will need to seize on the opportunity.  Burns, you'll recall, began as a DE but didn't stick, and has taken a while to get up to speed at TE.  Cowley needs to stake a claim to a position early, or we won't really ever see him until 2017 or 2018.  His blocking looks as though it'll be ahead of his pass-catching, so once he arrives, not noticing him shouldn't be confused with him not playing; still, he's not getting on the field as a 210- or 220-pound tight end, so the faster he adds good weight, the better his career will be for it.

**The Rivals highlight is hilariously worth watching just for the second play.  Cowley is split wide with a cornerback about ten yards off the line; the CB takes two steps back and then abandons his post with gusto, preferring instead to be the (completely unnecessary) third guy covering the slot receiver drifting toward the sideline.  Where the safety is, I dunno, but Cowley gets acres of open space all to his lonesome, and nobody else is seen on the screen until he's about at the goal line already.  It's How Not To Play Zone 101.

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I just remembered something about Tony Bennett's 2016 commitment, Ty Jerome - it's not that I forgot to write a profile, it's that I forgot to tell you why I'm not (yet).  We're going to wait til he plays his junior season, that's why.  Tony has the ability to get a nice early start on that class, so it wouldn't surprise me if I had two or even three of them sitting in the hopper waiting for a little more exposure before I commit myself to evaluating anything.

Monday, September 15, 2014

weekend review

Firstly, some quick wrap-up deals of the rest of the ACC:

-- In retrospect, betting on ECU should've been the easiest thing in the world to do - VT rolled into a classic letdown game against an opponent that always gives them fits.  Michael Brewer attempted 56 passes, not including sacks, of which there were quite a few.  Tech's pass defense sprung some leaks, as did the hands of their wide receivers.  I don't think it means a lot going forward, except to give us at least one very nice weekend this year.

-- Georgia Tech's defense looks as bad as expected - failure to hold a 35-10 lead against Georgia Southern is a huge red flag.  I'm looking toward that game as one of UVA's most winnable remaining matchups.

-- Wake Forest ran for -25 yards against Utah State.  I'll be surprised if the Deacs win so much as two more games all year.  That is the worst team in recent ACC memory.

-- Holy crap you guys.  Boston College, on the other hand, ran for 452 yards on USC, and held the Trojans to 20.  I feared I had overrated BC somewhat when they lost to Pitt, but if they keep that stuff up they'll give Louisville and Cuse a really hard time for 3rd in the Atlantic.

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-- David Teel agrees with me that UVA needs to throw its chips down on Greyson Lambert.

-- So does Andrew Ramspacher of the CDP.  Actually, it'd be news if you could ever find someone these days saying, no, we really need to continue this platoon thing.  A few message board kooks, that's it.  The truly interesting thing there, though, is the special teams stats.  It's early in the year, so there's always that caveat, but then, did you notice it wasn't UVA who lost because of a muffed punt?  Having a dedicated special teams coach who actually knows what he's doing is a major improvement.

-- Continuing that trend, Ian Frye was ACC specialist of the week.  Nice.  Definitely earned it by going 3-for-3 on field goals, none of which were easy chip shots.  (Don't think that 47-yarder would've been a successful 48-yarder, though.)

-- Actually, there is one place that doesn't agree with me on the quarterback thing, and that's the official depth chart, which still has the diabolical OR.  I'm willing to make much less of a deal of that this week, though.  I still have no idea what the hell London thinks about quarterbacks, but this week the benefit of the doubt is granted, and the assumption is that Lambert is basically the guy while the suspicion is that London won't be able to resist tossing Johns in there for a series or two.

-- Another attempt is being made at a Commonwealth Something featuring UVA and VT going at it in all sports, and of course UVA will win this thing because there are other sports besides football.  The men's soccer team struck the first blow last week.  And hey, speaking of which, they'll be on ESPNUVA this Sunday at 12 noon.  The undefeated ladies will be on the same channel the following week (9/28, that is) against FSU.

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Senior Seasons - the weekly look at interesting high school results:

Greater Johnstown 36, Bishop McCort 7 - Kareem Gibson picked off a pass and had a 60-yard catch to set up a touchdown.  Johnstown is 3-0.

St. Ignatius (OH) 42, St. Joseph's Prep 34 - Olamide Zacchaeus ran for two touchdowns in the loss.  St. Joseph's is 1-2.

Kettle Run 55, Millbrook 24 - David Eldrige returned a pick for a touchdown and scored another on a 67-yard reception.  Kettle Run is 1-1.

Gonzaga 38, Georgetown Prep 3 - Nick Johns was 10-14 for 159 yards and was pulled early in the blowout win.  Gonzaga is 3-0.

Good Counsel 23, Calvert Hall 0 - Myles Robinson had a quiet night with one rushing yard and 2 catches for 13 yards.  OLGC is 3-0.

Raritan 41, Manasquan 34 (Tanner Cowley) - Manasquan is 0-1.
Wayne 34, Lakota West 29 (C.J. Stalker) - Lakota West is 1-2.
Cathedral Prep 24, McDowell 10 (James Trucilla) - Cathedral Prep is 3-0.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh 35, Norristown 6 (Ryan Bischoff) - P-W is 1-2.
Benjamin Franklin 39, Philadelphia Northeast 20 (Gladimir Paul) - Northeast is 0-3.
South Aiken 35, Glenn Hills 14 (Rasool Clemons) - South Aiken is 1-2.
Friendship Collegiate 52, Woodrow Wilson 44 (Kareem McDonald) - Wilson is 1-2.
Atlee 56, Patrick Henry 0 (Eli Hanback) - Patrick Henry is 0-2.
Western Branch 55, Hickory 14 (Richard Burney) - Hickory is 0-2.
Ocean Lakes 42, Kellam 3 (Jahvoni Simmons) - Ocean Lakes is 2-0.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

flip

I could've told Louisville fans that Bobby Petrino's QB switch wasn't going to work.  You could've told them.  Maybe you even did.  It was obvious because we've seen that movie before.  Louisville fans, they've been a bit spoiled what with Teddy Bridgewater running the show lately, and I think they've noticed.  Reggie Bonnafon wasn't going to stop Max Valles from channeling Brent Urban, nor make Daquan Romero and Anthony Harris any worse at sniffing out screens, nor make Eli Harold turn off beast mode.

Watching someone else go through the quarterback gyrations, though, that by itself is satisfying enough.  Especially since our own problems should be solved.  (Should be, because the history of this staff doesn't allow for absolute pronunciations where this position is concerned.)  One QB controversy starts, another (mostly) ends - such is the rankings-shuffling nature of college football in September.  Just like that, the script is flipped.

I don't know if this is only temporary.  It feels like the kind of win that you could point to, months later, and say, "that was the turning point, right there."  It also feels like it could be fools' gold - but just the feeling that you did strike gold is good enough for now, and in deference to the pure positivity that should emanate from being 1-0 in the ACC after being 0-8, negative details are excised from this post and put off til later.

Last week, some Louisville sportswriter wrote a boilerplate column that called UVA "Northwestern with a larger stadium and lovelier campus."  The whole thing would've been infuriating if it weren't so damn irrefutable.  That's pretty much how folks have been viewing UVA lately, whether we wanted to believe it or not.  Now instead of the ACC's worst team facing the #21 team in the country, UVA has more votes than Louisville in the media poll this week.  Flip.

The general feeling these days is that there are seven teams in the Coastal and any one of them could win it.  Actually, what interests me is this: Rare is the year in which all teams in a division are bowl-eligible (it's only happened once since 2002, in the ACC Atlantic) and it could certainly happen this year.  For UVA to hold up its end of the bargain, the upcoming BYU game is a big one.  Win it, and UVA should only need to find two more wins in ACC play (Kent State is horrendous.)  Lose it, and we need three - the difference looms large.

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Predictions time.

-- No UVA RB tops 70 yards rushing.  Correct, as Kevin Parks came closest with 66.  Parks's run to seal up the win, though, was Manly Man Football at its finest.  Have I mentioned I'm a fan?

 -- Canaan Severin builds on his Richmond game, with at least five more catches.  Severin had a nice little four-catch game, but only managed 19 yards.  I probably got a little carried away with what constitutes a good game, but the fact remains that Severin looks like he's starting to live up to his four-star rating.

 -- Greyson Lambert begins to take hold of the QB job, with stats that start to separate him from Johns. For one, he throws no picks while Johns throws at least one.  Well, Lambert threw a pick, but I'm gonna break this up into two predictions because I think I deserve credit for the the first one.  So that's a make and a miss.  But a pretty big make.

 -- Will Gardner completes 2/3 of his passes or more.

 -- UVA's sack numbers fall to no more than two.  On both of these, it's obvious I didn't give the pass defense enough credit.  Gardner was something like 1-for-13 at one point.  The Hoos had three sacks, two picks, and eleven PBUs.  They're on pace to break up 92 passes.  And everyone is getting in on the sacktion; Henry Coley, in case you're wondering, is on pace for 24 TFLs and 14 sacks.  This is a good-ass defense, which, if they're not careful, might start to get some major national recognition for it.

 -- Louisville has at least twice as many passing yards as running yards.  Now you're talking.  I mean, Louisville's pass offense wasn't much, but their run game was stuffed - this prediction comes true even when removing sacks from the equation.

Prediction stats on the year:

5-for-13 specifics
1-1 straight up
0-1 ATS

There are some negatives to take away that'll leak out probably in next week's game preview.  Til then, bask in the ACC-undefeatedness of it all, and send a little love East Carolina's way while you're at it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

game preview: Louisville

Date/Time: Saturday, September 13; 12:30

TV: ESPN3

Record against the Cardinals: 1-1

Last meeting: UVA 16, UL 15; 10/28/89, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 45, UR 13; UL 66, Murr. St. 21

Line: Louisville by 6.5

Injury report:

Virginia:

OUT: CB Demetrious Nicholson, OT Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: None
QUESTIONABLE: CB Drequan Hoskey, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju
PROBABLE: None

Louisville:

OUT:
DOUBTFUL:
QUESTIONABLE:
PROBABLE:

Coming to town is a team that UVA has played twice in about 120 years of football; the Hoos have longer histories with Western Michigan and Tulane than the Cardinals.  So it's only natural that they should be a permanent rival, right, ACC?  There's no need to work on the schedule or realign or anything.

This shouldn't be taken as a slap to Louisville (who themselves would rather be lined up with Cuse or something) because if I actually hated Louisville I'd want to play them more. We can lay claim to the South's Oldest Rivalry, and now we can add the South's (nay, the World's) Most Artificial Rivalry too.

Oh well.  It's a conference game, so it's important, and, even though Kentucky has as much Atlantic coastline as British Columbia, I always saw the ACC as a southern conference rather than an eastern one.  Louisville's a reasonable fit along those lines.  And since we do have to deal with these guys every year for who knows how long, we might as well beat 'em.

-- UVA run offense vs. UL run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 30 carries, 107 yards, 3.6 ypc, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 17 carries, 47 yards. 2.8 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
138.5 yards/game, 3.51 yards/attempt
98th of 127 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UL defense:
55.5 yards/game, 2.41 yards/attempt
22nd of 127 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

I get the feeling this is going to be a yearlong issue.  It may be bad enough to sink the good ship London.  It was easy to rationalize a tough day against UCLA; Richmond, not so much.  Steve Fairchild gets a lot of flak for using the short passing game too much.  I think part of the reason he does that is, that's the running game.

Injuries have certainly not helped the matter, and there's a chance that situation could improve a little this week.  Sadiq Olanrewaju has missed the first two games, but he could be available on Saturday.  To tell the truth, I don't think it'll make a huge noticeable difference.  The problem is the lack of push in the middle.

Evaluating Louisville's run defense is tricky, since half of the sample is Murray State, which of course they dominated.  The linebackers have done well so far, with 6 TFLs among them, exactly what you'd expect from a 3-4 defense.  What makes things tricky for UVA is that the Cards also more or less shut down Duke Johnson of Miami, who needed 20 carries to get to 90 yards.  That by itself is plenty reason enough to think Louisville's defense is more than capable of winning this week's matchup.

It'll be interesting to see, if Olanrewaju is healthy enough to play - does he start, and if so, how does the lineup get shuffled?  Mooney to guard, or back to second string?  I suspect it'd mean more rotation than we've had in the first two games.  Unlike many 3-4 defenses, Louisville doesn't have three battleship-sized linemen, owing to the fact that it's their first year in the system, so there's a little hope for some up-front push.  But I wouldn't expect things to suddenly improve by half a yard a carry.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UL pass defense

Quarterbacks:
Greyson Lambert: 29/38, 76.3%; 214 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs; 5.63 yards/attempt
Matt Johns: 17/29, 58.6%; 219 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 7.55 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 11 rec., 41 yards, 0 TDs
Darius Jennings: 7 rec., 118 yards, 1 TD
Canaan Severin: 7 rec., 88 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
219.5 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
86th of 127 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UL defense:
212.5 yards/game, 6.3 yards/attempt
57th of 127 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

Yes, it's infuriating to list two quarterbacks.  Mike London said something after the UCLA game about rotating quarterbacks being no different than rotating the other positions on the field, which eerily mirrors something Al Groh said when he couldn't decide between Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner.  For the sake of his own tenure, I wish London could make a damn decision.  I'd say that I want one of them to separate himself, but that's basically saying "I hope one of them sucks."  So, no.

The good news is that there's some signs of breakout in the receiving corps.  Canaan Severin had a big game against Richmond and appears to be starting to come into his own, even though he's not listed first-string on the depth chart.  The coaches have raved about Doni Dowling's preparation and rewarded him accordingly, and Darius Jennings is on his way to the kind of production we need from a senior.  A ton of different players have caught passes this year; I suspect this will be a game that starts to narrow the field some.

Fairchild has made a huge concerted effort to get Smoke Mizzell the ball in the passing game; small wonder, as he came in with a reputation as an advanced pass-catcher for a running back.  The problem is, it hasn't worked.  Mizzell is averaging a puny 3.7 yards a catch, barely enough for a first down if you tried it three times in a row.  Neither the running backs nor the tight ends have been anything close to a reliable threat in the passing game, which is putting more pressure on the receivers.

Fortunately, the O-line has done a decent job of pass protection, at least on paper.  The only sack was a garbage-time sack on David Watford by Richmond.  That's the good news.  The bad news is, I think that's a bit misleading.  The O-line spoke proudly of not having allowed a sack against UCLA, but left out the time a UCLA linebacker ran back an INT on account of Lambert almost getting killed by the rush.  Plus, our QB's haven't exactly been doing a seven-step drop.  The short passing game contributes a lot to the lack of opposing pass rush.

For their part, Louisville hasn't generated a great deal of pressure, so UVA's quarterbacks should at least be grass-stain free, for the most part.  The Cards did intercept Miami's Brad Kaaya twice, but five of their seven PBUs were against Murray State.  Their pass defense appears to be a little behind their run defense in adapting to the 3-4.

I do see one big potential advantage for UVA: A short passing game like we tend to run, forces the linebackers into coverage fairly often, and UL's linebackers are mostly converted D-linemen from the 4-3.  Can they cover the slot as consistently as Fairchild will probably make them?  We'll see.

-- UL run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Dominique Brown: 38 carries, 183 yards, 4.8 ypc, 2 TDs
Brandon Radcliff: 15 carries, 97 yards, 6.5 ypc, 2 TDs

UL offense:
227.5 yards/game, 4.95 yards/attempt
48th of 127 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
87.5 yards/game, 2.50 yards/attempt
24th of 127 (national), 3rd of 14 (ACC)

Louisville was supposed to have a tandem this year - according to plan, Michael Dyer would've split carries with Dominique Brown in a classic thunder-and-lightning combo.  The lightning is missing, leaving 235-pound thunderback Brown to take the carries.

Brown was held back from most of the Murray State game after topping 30 carries and 140+ yards against Miami, likely to keep him healthy.  If Dyer's sore thigh keeps him out again this weekend, Brown will probably carry the ball most of the time, with L.J. Scott first in line to spell him.  Scott piled up yards against Murray State, but only had three carries (and went nowhere) against Miami.

The UVA defense, though, is easily Louisville's toughest test so far.  Henry Coley and Daquan Romero are two dominant linebackers.  Possibly the most interesting development, though, is Max Valles's ten tackles.  Early returns on Valles are that he's becoming the all-around player UVA needs him to be.  He's been a presence in the run game, which gives UVA three outstanding linebackers, and he's been joined by Eli Harold, who's coming along the same path.  Louisville has a competent running game, but they're the ones not sleeping easy in this matchup.

-- UL pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterback:
Will Gardner: 33/50, 66.0%; 339 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs; 6.78 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Eli Rogers: 10 rec., 110 yards, 0 TDs
Gerald Christian: 9 rec., 91 yards, 2 TDs
Kai De La Cruz: 6 rec., 63 yards, 1 TD

UL offense:
242.0 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
64th of 127 (national), 5th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
302.5 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
92nd of 127 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Now that is surprising - I did not at all expect to see UVA sitting on the very bottom of the conference in pass defense.  Thinking back, maybe it shouldn't be.  Richmond moved the ball pretty well through the air.  We haven't had our top cornerback - Tra Nicholson - in the game all season, and he won't be back for this one either.  This plus DreQuan Hoskey's questionable status means lots of Tim Harris, and Harris has been getting picked on all season.  He's been very obviously bad so far, getting beaten for most of the big plays UVA has given up.

On the plus side, the pass rush has been among the best in the country.  Valles has been a particular fiend, but there are players along the line (Harold, for example) who've been getting a lot more push than their sack numbers show.

Louisville's Will Gardner has been plenty effective so far, in his first season at the helm.  Gardner carved up Miami pretty effectively, to the tune of 20 completions on 28 attempts, and two touchdowns.  And he's done it without the help of DeVante Parker, who was expected to be one of the top receivers in the league.  Parker underwent foot surgery, oh, right about the exact same time I wrote my ACC preview.  Louisville hasn't found a huge big-play threat yet so far, with Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, and James Quick, plus TE Gerald Christian, all averaging only about 10 yards per catch.  But they've all been dependable, and Louisville has moved the ball well in the passing game.

With Gardner owning a high completion rate, and UVA allowing one, it's plenty likely we'll see more of the same there.  UVA's CB depth is being sorely tested, and the Hoos haven't pressed up much in coverage - something Louisville will be happy to take advantage of.  The pass rush needs to be consistent all day, as any letup will probably result in a long scoring drive.

-- Favorability ratings

- UVA run offense: 3
- UVA pass offense: 3.5
- UVA run defense: 6.5
- UVA pass defense: 4

Average: 4.25

-- Outlook

Look around a bit and you can find a few pundits picking UVA in this one.  Cool, but I think a lot of that is based on a good showing against possibly-overrated UCLA.  I gotta see more out of the run game, a pass game that legitimately threatens some explosive plays no matter who's under center, and better cornerback play.  Louisville should be well-equipped to nullify a lot of our advantage in pass defense, and seems likely to overcome our defense just enough to hold off our offense.

-- Predictions

-- No UVA RB tops 70 yards rushing.

-- Canaan Severin builds on his Richmond game, with at least five more catches.

-- Greyson Lambert begins to take hold of the QB job, with stats that start to separate him from Johns.  For one, he throws no picks while Johns throws at least one.

-- Will Gardner completes 2/3 of his passes or more.

-- UVA's sack numbers fall to no more than two.

-- Louisville has at least twice as many passing yards as running yards.

Final score: UL 24, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC

Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina - 12:00 - It'd be really cool if VT's win over Ohio State last week means that OSU actually really sucks.  Indirectly, an ECU win (which has happened before) would really knock the Big Ten off its hinges.

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia Southern - 12:00 - Georgia Southern very nearly knocked off NC State in the season opener.

Pittsburgh @ Florida Int'l - 12:00 - Why is an ACC team visiting FIU?  Recruiting, probably, but c'mon.

Syracuse @ Central Michigan - 12:00 - Cuse doesn't even have that excuse.

Miami vs. Arkansas State - 3:30 - Things are bad in Hooville when ESPNU picks this game over a conference matchup.

NC State @ South Florida - 3:30 - NC State has been playing with fire in its comparatively weak OOC schedule, and now goes on the road just to turn up the heat a bit.

Duke vs. Kansas - 3:30 - Charlie Weis is the country's greatest offensive genius, if you're asking Charlie Weis.  This would be a good chance for him to take some notes.

Wake Forest @ Utah State - 7:00 - This rounds out the sweep; ACC teams are playing opponents from all of the so-called Group of Five conferences this week.

Boston College vs. USC - 8:00 - Not gonna be pretty.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

senior seasons

It's time for the return of Senior Seasons, and this'll be a lot more interesting than last year because last year we were only tracking 9 players.  This year we have more than twice that many.  Normally this is a Monday feature along with the weekend review but I was at the Lions game so there.  Today it'll just be a stand-alone thing.  It's not the work of 15 minutes, unfortunately, to find all the local papers, deal with stupid paywalls, and dig up the scores, especially when you've procrastinated and the games were five days ago.

Buford 27, McEachern 20 - David Curry returned a punt to the 11-yard line to set up the winning score, and then preserved the victory by batting down a fourth-down pass.  Buford is 3-0.

Greater Johnstown 24, Bishop Carroll 7 - Kareem Gibson caught what stood up as the game-winning TD for Johnstown.  Johnstown is 2-0.

Gonzaga 31, Centreville 14 - Nick Johns threw for 99 yards and ran for 51 plus a pair of touchdowns.  Gonzaga is 2-0.

Altavista 62, Randolph-Henry 0 - Juan Thornhill ran 65 yards for a touchdown on his team's first offensive snap of the game, and went 55 yards for another one on the next snap.  He also threw for a first-quarter touchdown, and Altavista had a 34-0 lead after one quarter.  Altavista is 2-0.

Charlotte 28, Barron Collier 14 (Grant Polk) - Charlotte is 2-0.
Elder 51, Lakota West 21 (C.J. Stalker) - Lakota West is 1-1.
Father Judge 38, Phila. Northeast 18 (Gladimir Paul) - Northeast is 0-2.
Abington 23, Plymouth-Whitemarsh 8 (Ryan Bischoff) - P-W is 0-2.
Don Bosco 35, St. Joseph's Prep 7 (Olamide Zacchaeus) - St. Joseph's is 1-1.
Cathedral Prep 42, Strong Vincent 6 (James Trucilla) - Cathedral Prep is 2-0.
Midland Valley 28, South Aiken 14 (Rasool Clemons) - South Aiken is 0-2.
Woodrow Wilson 28, Duval 16 (Kareem McDonald) - Wilson is 1-1.
Good Counsel 9, St. Frances 6 (Myles Robinson) - OLGC is 2-0.
Hanover 16, Patrick Henry 0 (Eli Hanback) - Patrick Henry is 0-1.
Liberty 65, Orange 0 (R.J. Proctor) - Liberty is 2-0.

Our players are pretty spread out this year - only a couple 757ites who don't play each other because one's in VB and one's in Chesapeake - so there are minimal UVA vs. UVA matchups this year.  One happened last week, as Good Counsel and Woodrow Wilson opened their seasons against each other, with a dominant GC victory at 49-13.  Gonzaga will play Good Counsel, of course - that's later this month - and Halloween weekend will see Liberty take on Kettle Run.  (You don't see the latter above because they had a bye this week.)  There are a couple instances of common opponents, but otherwise that's it for actual matchups.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

$#!T or get off the pot

Sweeping narratives about the just-completed game are usually the order of the day on a Sunday, but this was Richmond and absolutely nothing took place that hasn't been foreseen in the last few months.  So, let's try a position paper instead.

To tell the truth, there's no way to tell from the statistics of two games whether Greyson Lambert or Matt Johns should be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.  There was no telling from the Richmond game, and there was no telling by listening to the announcers.  (That is, in the postgame highlights posted on ESPN.  During the game they had inexplicably anointed Johns after a few plays, which I think was the result of not having an understanding of the coaches' plan.  It's not the first time there's been a substitution at quarterback that the announcers read way, way, way too much into.)

But there's a wealth of information that the coaches have access to that we don't.  Game film, sideline demeanor, command of the offense, practice habits, and so on.  This is the fundamental reason in the first place, why there's such a thing as fans bitching on message boards that so-and-so should get more playing time when he doesn't.  The people with the highest possible level of information are the coaches.

So, it's time to put it to use.  I realize that the difference between Lambert and Johns doesn't appear to be much right now - it's small enough that I don't even have a preference.  But I'm not the one being paid millions of dollars and a BMW to make those decisions.  When it comes to job duties, filling out the QB depth chart is one where London and his offensive assistants have been singularly derelict.  But now he's in a dogfight for his job and a conference opponent is coming to town.  When, if not now, is a good time to make a goddam choice?

If there's still an OR on the depth chart come Monday when it's released, it'd be another very strong point in the case for a change at the top.  Neither Johns nor Lambert are going to hurt the team as the starter - or at least, not any worse than the other.  What does hurt is having a coach who's incapable of making the biggest decision a coach has to make.

I had been thinking that there'd be some optimism to be found in the passing stats, where Lambert got way more attempts (thus, fueling the idea that he was a little higher up the food chain) but the stats and my memory fooled me.  What actually happened is that Lambert got the 1st and 4th quarters (until garbage time) while Johns got the 2nd and 3rd.  Johns just ended up with way better field position most of the time.

So it's basically back to square one.  Let's hope London decides to put on the big boy pants this week: pick someone, give him a reasonable leash, and worry less about hurting feelings and more about doing the stuff he's getting paid to do.

****************************************

A quick prediction review is in order, as is tradition:

-- Both Johns and Lambert throw for over 150 yards, and their final stats are not very distinguishable from each other.  Half right is a zero the way I usually account for things.  Actually, the offense sputtered, badly.  Of six touchdowns, one was defensive and only one was scored without the benefit of good field position, which I tend to define as starting beyond one's own 35.  I'm not impressed.

-- A UVA receiver grabs at least 8 receptions.  This would've gone hand-in-hand with the expected semi-explosion of offense, and the closest we got was Darius Jennings's 4.  No other WR had more than 2.

-- Taquan Mizzell finally breaks the long gain we've been waiting to see - 50 yards or more.  He compiled a total of 16 all day long.  Here's a sobering thought: UVA's rushing game was barely better against Richmond than non-scholarship Morehead State's.

-- Rocco's presence is basically a non-issue, with Strauss throwing at least 2.5 times more passes than him.  Right on, as Strauss tried 36 passes to Rocco's 11 - and most of the latter's came with the game slipping badly away from the Spiders.

-- UVA picks up at least four more sacks.  Troof.  The official-site box score credits the Hoos with four sacks, two of which turned into turnovers.  The pass rush is one thing we have going here that makes opposing coaches crap their Jockeys.

-- Richmond's offense is held scoreless in the first half, but not the whole game.  Sooo close.  The Spiders got a field goal on their first drive and that was it for the half.  This is what I get for going too far out on a limb (and why I consider a 40% success rate pretty good.)

The season starts off 2-for-6, and 1-0 straight up on score predictions.  Not that picking us to beat Richmond is very hard to do.

Friday, September 5, 2014

game preview: Richmond



Date/Time: Saturday, September 6; 3:30

TV: ESPN3

Record against the Spiders: 27-2-2

Last meeting: UVA 43, UR 19; 9/1/12, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UCLA 28, UVA 20; UR 55, Morehead St. 10

Line: none

Injury report: N/A

It's hard to find a matchup of I-A and I-AA teams that's full of storylines, but this one always seems to qualify.  A couple years ago it was all about the UVA connection on the UR coaching staff - which is still true, by the way, with Byron Thweatt and Fontel Mines represented, along with a couple former UVA assistant coaches - and now it's the quarterbacks, too.  Michael Strauss and Mike Rocco aren't the first UVA quarterbacks to end up in Richmond, but then, Bryson Spinner never played against UVA after doing so.  So there'll be quite a few Spiders who really want to take the Hoos down a peg.

-- UVA run offense vs. UR run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 17 carries, 55 yards, 3.2 ypc, 0 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 10 carries, 31 yards, 3.1 ypc, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
120 yards/game, 3.08 yards/attempt
94th of 122 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UR defense:
100 yards/game, 3.57 yards/attempt
36th of 103 (national), 5th of 12 (CAA)

The running game was only marginally effective - at best - against UCLA.  It didn't offer much hope for the O-line this year.  This week, though, a respite seems in order.  Richmond's stats against Morehead State aren't that bad, but worse than you'd maybe expect to see from a game like that.  Morehead State is one of the weaker teams in one of I-AA's weakest leagues: the Pioneer League, a conclave of teams that don't offer football scholarships at all.  Morehead State is about to take on Pikeville this week - an NAIA team that they lost to last year.  So any failure to completely dominate Morehead State in any aspect of the game is an exploitable weakness.  Richmond's defensive playmaking was almost exclusively in the defensive backfield, the one notable exception being linebacker Aaron Roane.  The D-line was of little use, so this matchup should be a pretty slanted one.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UR pass defense

Quarterbacks:
Greyson Lambert: 16/23, 69.6%; 112 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs; 4.87 yards/attempt
Matt Johns: 13/22, 59.1%; 154 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7.00 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 6 rec., 15 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 5 rec., 55 yards, 0 TDs
Doni Dowling: 5 rec., 25 yards, 0 TDs

UVA offense:
266 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
89th of 122 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

UR defense:
209 yards/game, 4.35 yards/attempt
19th of 103 (national); 2nd of 12 (CAA)

Richmond looked better here, playing pretty effectively against Morehead State's passing game, but again - they didn't dominate.  The Spiders picked up no sacks and no interceptions, and Morehead's Austin Gahafer was able to complete 62% - though much like Greyson Lambert against UCLA, he was dink-dunking, which contributes some to the lack of big plays on defense for Richmond.

Mike London is about to coach in his 51st game at UVA, and in more than 30 of them, he's used two quarterbacks.  This will just increase that already insanely high percentage, although at least this time, I agree with the need to do so.  If he's smart, he'll alternate possessions rather than giving one half to one quarterback - that way, he's evaluating their play against the same defensive personnel.

Problem is, quarterback competitions being what they are, I don't expect a lot of separation.  Richmond isn't likely to be good enough to provide many decision points.  Both of them should fare well here.  What we're more likely to see is some clarification at receiver.  Somebody will have an eight-catch game, somewhere.  The UCLA game saw a lot of different players step up, and we didn't even get to see much of Keeon Johnson or any of Jamil Kamara, so the game will start with a really muddy picture at receiver; I think it'll clear up some by the end, though.

-- UR run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jacobi Green: 9 carries, 42 yards, 4.7 ypc, 0 TDs
Seth Fisher: 8 carries, 48 yards, 6.0 ypc, 0 TDs

UR offense:
235.0 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
25th of 103 (national); 2nd of 12 (CAA)

UVA defense:
116.0 yards/game, 2.97 yards/attempt
45th of 122 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

The strictures of my own format forbid listing them all, but Richmond was able to really spread the carries around against Morehead, with the main ballcarriers being the ones listed above: Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green.  That was Richmond's two-headed attack last year, the two combining for a shade over 1,000 yards on the season.  They're both big, rumbly backs, especially Fisher, and Richmond brought out another bowling ball in the fourth quarter last week, in the form of true freshman Jeremiah Hamlin.  Hamlin ended up as the game's leading rusher, with 80 yards in just a quarter of work - though, again, it was the fourth.

Richmond's O-line is pretty good for I-AA, especially at center where Austin Gund piles up all-conference honors pretty quickly.  The line is big, as big as you'd find on the I-A level.  Still, it's a matchup of strength on strength.  What I like here is UVA's linebackers; Richmond's backs are big, but they aren't speed merchants in the least degree; Coley and Romero are physically fairly quick but mentally much quicker, and should be able to stuff the run game pretty consistently.

-- UR pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Quarterbacks:
Michael Strauss: 17/23, 73.9%; 259 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 11.3 yards/attempt
Mike Rocco: 9/13, 69.2%; 117 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 9.0 yards/attempt

Top receivers:
Stephen Barnette: 6 rec., 76 yards, 1 TD
Brian Brown: 5 rec., 110 yards, 0 TDs
Rashad Ponder: 4 rec., 33 yards, 0 TDs

UR offense:
408.0 yards/game, 9.95 yards/attempt
11th of 103 (national); 1st of 12 (CAA)

UVA defense:
242.0 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
77th of 122 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Those numbers for the UVA defense don't seem quite fair, given the harassment laid on Brett Hundley all day long last week.  The secondary was a little disappointing, though; Tim Harris appeared to have a rough day in coverage.  Richmond could present another challenge at times.  To start off with, Michael Strauss had a terrific year for the Spiders last year.  Against Morehead he was still the undisputed starter, despite speculation that Mike Rocco would give him a challenge.  After all, Rocco did beat Strauss out once already.

I think we'll see less of Rocco than people think, though.  Strauss picked up against Morehead where he left off last year, and Rocco threw the game's lone interception.  Richmond has a really dangerous go-to weapon in Stephen Barnette, a tall and lanky receiver who averaged nearly 100 yards a game last year.  Brian Brown could be emerging as a danger spot as well; he's a sophomore who had a big game last week and nearly eclipsed his freshman-year stats in just that one game.

Obviously, keeping up the pressure has to be a bread-and-butter thing for UVA this year if the defense is to keep the Hoos in games.  It was a lot of fun last week, watching Hundley scramble for his life and never even sure which side the heat would come from.  The Richmond QBs left UVA before Jon Tenuta got here, so they haven't seen his mad-hatter blitzing in practice at all.

-- Favorability ratings

A feature that returns from last year.  Still early in the season to be nailing these down with tons of accuracy, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

UVA run offense: 8.5
UVA pass offense: 8.5
UVA run defense: 9
UVA pass defense: 7.5

Average: 8.375

-- Outlook

As justifiably skeptical as anyone might be about Mike London's abilities, there's this going for him: UVA has never had any trouble with I-AA teams under his tenure.  I figure that's got a lot to do with the high level of talent London's brought in.  At some point, superior athleticism just becomes too much.  Richmond has a passing game that's often the envy of the CAA, but they don't have a way to stop Eli Harold from screwing with it.  UVA should be able to grind out a fairly easy and somewhat anticlimactic win.

-- Predictions

-- Both Johns and Lambert throw for over 150 yards, and their final stats are not very distinguishable from each other.

-- A UVA receiver grabs at least 8 receptions.

-- Taquan Mizzell finally breaks the long gain we've been waiting to see - 50 yards or more.

-- Rocco's presence is basically a non-issue, with Strauss throwing at least 2.5 times more passes than him.

-- UVA picks up at least four more sacks.

-- Richmond's offense is held scoreless in the first half, but not the whole game.

Final score: UVA 38, UR 14

-- Rest of the ACC

Pittsburgh @ Boston College - Fri. - Is anyone else still having trouble getting used to this matchup of northern urban schools as an ACC game?

Clemson vs. South Carolina State - 12:30 - Clemson was no help whatsoever for the ACC's rep last week.  Not that they were the only ones, though.

Georgia Tech @ Tulane - 4:00 - I'm not convinced that GT is all that big a favorite here.  I mean, they should win.  But.

NC State vs. Old Dominion - 6:00 - See Georgia Tech blurb.

Wake Forest vs. Gardner-Webb - 6:30 - Uh, maybe ditto.  Wake is every ounce as bad as I thought they were.  This could be their only win all year.

Louisville vs. Murray State - 7:00 - Yes, this is Boring Week in the ACC, in case you had been wondering.

Miami vs. Florida A&M - 7:00 - I mean, only four games are on national TV, which doesn't count ESPN3 but does count ESPNews.

Duke @ Troy - 7:00 - There are some that say Duke is smart to "schedule for success."  You know how I feel about that, but here's one more point: when you're scheduling home-and-homes with Troy, it's likely you're scheduling that way because you can't do any better if you tried.

Florida State vs. The Citadel - 7:30 - Jameis Winston will play this game under the spectre of a Title IX sexual assault investigation, which I'm sure will result in a sternly worded note in his student file.

North Carolina vs. San Diego State - 8:00 - UNC will get a few suspended players back for this one, because their hazing investigation found there wasn't any room left underneath the rug.

Virginia Tech @ Ohio State - 8:00 - I love games like this, where someone has to lose.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the recruit: David Eldridge

Name: David Eldridge
Position: WR
Hometown: Bealeton
School: Kettle Run
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 165

24/7: 86, three stars; #92 WR, VA #26
ESPN: 77, three stars; #99 WR, VA #28, East #93
Rivals: 5.6, three stars; #80 WR, VA #23
Scout: three stars; #163 WR

Other offers: Boston College, Illinois, Wake Forest, Connecticut, East Carolina, Marshall, Old Dominion

With a metric ton of space available in the 2015 class, the summer was primed to bring a big wave of commitments, and that's exactly what it did - starting with David Eldridge.  Nick Johns committed in early May, and Eldridge near the very end of it with 23 days in between.  We haven't had that long of a drought since, and from Eldridge's commitment to mid-June, Mike London earned a commitment every five days, like clockwork.

UVA was Eldridge's first offer, back in January, and during the spring he was diligent in hitting the camp circuit, earning several more before ending his recruitment.  Eldridge talked occasionally about visiting here and there, but those never materialized.  Despite looking at Wake and BC with some interest, Eldridge kept UVA on the front burner throughout the process.

Having worked hard to put himself in front of evaluators, it's not surprising that Eldridge's evaluations are consistent, but the degree of consistency is a head-turner.  It's hard to find a prospect about whom the services agree this strongly, especially here in the mid-three-star range.  The offer list is the same - just about what you'd expect, with a few larger-profile programs starting to nose around by the time Eldridge committed (West Virginia was probably closest to being his next offer.)

Everything they say about him points like a lit-up neon arrow to "possession receiver."  He's used to working in the middle of the field from his high school experience already, and ESPN not only explicitly says possession receiver but mentions, three times, his lack of a top gear.  But both they and Rivals like his physicality and route-running ("crisp" is Rivals' word for it) and ESPN also takes care to note that Eldridge is "continually breaking tackes."  I like when they make a point of saying it happens frequently instead of just saying "flashes" or "displays the ability to."

There's some opportunity in the UVA receiving corps to distinguish yourself if you have a lot of speed, but that's not going to be Eldridge's game; plus, at six-foot-even, maybe six-one, he won't stand out for his size, either.  That means it's going to have to be things like strength, hands, route-running - things that take extra work.  So a redshirt ought to be in the cards, which is something even his high school coach is openly lobbying for.  Eldridge shouldn't be needed on the field right away anyway, especially if Dominique Terrell ends up with an extra year (dude never did redshirt and he looks headed that way now), which would give him plenty of separation from the classes in front - the result of playing both Doni Dowling and (likely) Jamil Kamara in 2014.  So while Eldridge looks like he'll sit on the shelf a while, patience and hard work should pay off later as he'll find himself the veteran of the receiving corps relatively early in his career.  By then, if all goes well, he'll be the kind of dirty-work receiver that quarterbacks can't live without on third down.

Monday, September 1, 2014

worst-case scenario

Last week I wrote about best-case and worst-case scenarios for the season, albeit summarily.  Good thing, too, because if I'd wasted too many words talking about worst-case, I'd have just been reminded how much more elegantly it can be said by moving pictures.  This weekend was designed purely to make UVA fans go insane.

Play well enough to win, but lose?  Check.  Fire up the quarterback shitstorm all the way to 11?  Check.  Throw in one hair-pulling mistake, and the only thing missing is a season-ending injury to some really important player.  But don't give anyone any ideas.  Henry Coley's knees thank you in advance.

(As a substitute, we can just go ahead and go 5-7 this season now, so that the schedule-for-success crowd is given a whole free offseason to never shut up.  That should complete my trip to the nuthouse.)

The real way to see this game, though, is however you damn well please.  If you're the Kool-Aid type, the defense was fantastic against a hyped-up quarterback and the quarterbacks at least provided a reason to believe someone will be worth a damn; plus, our offense outscored UCLA's.  If you're more the Eeyore persuasion, we beat a pretty damn good team last year to start the season and then watched every other coach actually coach the season while our staff bumbled around and forgot to make any adjustments; plus, the game was more a reason to crash-sell all your UCLA stock than to start buying UVA's.  You wouldn't be the only one thinking that.

I'm pretty confident in saying UVA will get its first win next week.  Beyond that, we learned nothing whatsoever about this team, mainly because most every unit performed about as expected.  The D-line was a terror and the linebackers made hell of plays.  The O-line was a steaming pile of.... yeah.  The receivers looked good sometimes and lousy sometimes.  About the only unexpected thing was the QBs, which of course answered nothing either.

So, check back, I guess, in two weeks, after the game I'm dubbing The World's Most Artificial Rivalry.  We'll have to wait that long to find out who the quarterback really is.  If we still don't know, watch out, because the season is then likely to be one full-bore controversy.

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-- I could probably devote a full post and a half to what happened under center the other day, but let's see if I can make this compact enough to read.  Having read about the game before I saw it (I was traveling, and my limit for keeping away from the score before I can get to my Tivo is overnight) I wasn't surprised to see Matt Johns come in.  I was surprised that Greyson Lambert didn't suck.  I mean, that's why you'd pull a quarterback, right?  Here's my theory, actually: London did this to fire up the offense, not because of anything in particular that he saw or didn't see out of Lambert, and the move having worked beyond his wildest dreams, he was left with no choice but to keep this going.

I mean, only one of those three UCLA touchdowns can even remotely be pinned on Lambert (although the third one is 100% his.)  Lambert played just fine.  I wish the playcalling would've asked more of him, but he was fine.

The reason this is now a problem is that Johns was way more than "fine."  Johns was actually good.  Really good, sometimes.  I mean, those touchdown throws.  Give a ton of credit to Andre Levrone and Darius Jennings for fine catches in tough coverage, but those throws were professional throws.  Johns just plain looked comfortable - more so than Lambert, even with the O-line failing to protect either one of them.  The one thing that makes this not really a fair fight is the playcalling, which got a lot gutsier with Johns in the game, and I don't just mean deeper throws.  Johns also rolled out of the pocket at least once, which Lambert was not asked to do.

I fully expect to see both of them against Richmond.  There's no way the coaches can make a proper decision now.  Johns clearly outplayed Lambert; in fact, Johns outplayed UCLA's Brett Hundley (though Hundley was let down by his receivers quite a bit.) and there's no way to toss that aside and hand Lambert the ball without a qualm now.  But there's no way to throw away all of spring and fall camp without a qualm either.  It's the last thing I ever wanted to see, but we're just gonna have to fire up the competition again.  And they'll probably both play very well against Richmond, because Richmond.

-- It's amazing how one team can have such a terror for a defensive line and such a flimsy offensive line.  The only decent running plays came on misdirections and from Kevin Parks's YAC-generating thunder thighs.  But the D-line - wowz.  David Dean was double-teamed almost the whole game, I think, and Hundley was flustered not just because he was pressured, but because he could never be too sure where the pressure would come from.  Some of that is the mad blitzer in the coaches' box, but the line didn't really need the help to make a collapsy mess of Hundley's pocket.

-- I know player safety is important and all but a 15-yard penalty for putting your helmet back on and continuing to play is a truly fart-brained rule.

-- No major new wrinkles in the offense, which isn't surprising when breaking in a new quarterback, but I did like the changing tempo.  Maybe that counts as a major wrinkle.  I think that'll be a plus going forward, though; there's no need to try to be Oregon, and race race race around the field, but a little unpredictability helps.

-- I'm not actually kidding.  Please solve this quarterback thing soon.